Monday, May 14, 2012

Funeral for the Gulf of Mexico

An article in the most recent issue of The Nation sets to rest once and for all any notion that all is well in the Gulf of Mexico two years after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. 

"BP's Toxic Legacy" by Antonia Juhasz opens with the story of Nicole and William Maurer and their two daughters, aged six and nine. When the explosion on the Deep Water Horizon wiped out William's fishing business, he got a temporary job working on BP's clean-up operation, which operated under the outrageously euphemistic name of Vessels of Opportunity. The first signs that this was hazardous work came when William experienced vomiting and diarrhea. Later he started bleeding from his ears and nose and coughing heavily. Now the entire family, including the children, is plagued with health problems. They don't have money to go to a doctor and can't afford to move.

The BP spill released 210 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Two million gallons of toxic dispersant were then pumped into the water in an effort to break up the oil. Although a class action lawsuit against BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and other companies involved in the spill is underway, many of the people harmed will either be excluded from any settlement or will not be eligible if (or when) their health deteriorates further.

Radical Joy for Hard Times was founded on the premise that when the places we love are damaged, people hurt too. The Gulf of Mexico is a place that has been hurt in every conceivable way—socially, economically, environmentally, physically, and psychologically. 
That BP, which ignored workers' concerns about the safety and reliability of equipment and deliberately took shortcuts in drilling the well that exploded, may end up escaping financial liability is an injustice and a tragedy. 

On February 29 Gulf Coast activists held a New Orleans jazz-style funeral for the Gulf of Mexico. People dressed up as skeletons or oil-soaked birds. They carried a life-size doll rag in a coffin. They bore signs reading "BP KILLS" and "DEAD PELICAN SANDWICHES—$11 MILLION EACH. (To read about the Funeral for the Gulf and see photos by James Robichaux see the NOLA Post.)

The procession started at BP headquarters and ended at the courthouse where the trial is currently underway. Combining beauty, theatre, spectacle, and the emotional spirit of an entire region, the mock funeral embodied both the despair of Gulf Coast residents and their ineradicable sense of community and creativity.

On Saturday, June 23, people all over the world will be going to wounded places and making acts of beauty there for the Radical Joy for Hard Times third annual Global Earth Exchange.

The people and land of the Gulf of Mexico are in desperate need of beauty. If you know someone who lives on the Gulf will you beg them, please, to join this day of attention and beauty and to honor the Gulf of Mexico?

Photo above by James Robichaux.